Osama bin Laden threatened in a new message released Thursday to kill any Americans al-Qaeda captures if the U.S. executes the self-professed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks or other al-Qaeda suspects.
In the 74-second audiotape aired on Al-Jazeera television, the al-Qaeda leader explicitly mentions Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was captured in Pakistan in 2003. He is the most senior al-Qaeda operative in U.S. custody and is currently detained at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In 2008, the U.S. charged Mohammed with with murder and war crimes in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. Pentagon officials have said they will seek the death penalty for him. Four of his fellow plotters are also in custody.
“The White House has expressed its desire to execute them. The day America makes that decision will be the day it has issued a death sentence for any one of you that is taken captive,” Mr. bin Laden said, addressing Americans. (The Globe & Mail)
Mr. bin Laden also said U.S. President Barack Obama is following in the footsteps of his predecessor George W. Bush by escalating the war in Afghanistan, being “unjust” to al-Qaeda prisoners and supporting Israel in its occupation of Palestinian land. “The politicians of the White house were and still are wronging us, especially by supporting Israel and occupying our land in Palestine.” (The Globe & Mail)
“And the United States, across the oceans is protected from the rage of the oppressed until our reaction was loudly heard at your home on the 9/11 with God’s help.” (The New York Times)
“Equal treatment is only fair. War is a back-and-forth,” he added. (The Globe & Mail)
The White House had no immediate comment.
A U.S. counterterrorism official said it is absurd for al-Qaeda to suggest it is going to start treating captives badly. “They may have forgotten Danny Pearl and all the others they’ve slaughtered, but we haven’t,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss classified information. The official did not confirm that the tape was authentic. (The Globe & Mail)
After his March 2003 capture in Pakistan, Mohammed described himself as the architect of numerous terrorism plots and even claimed that “with my blessed right hand,” he had decapitated the Wall Street Journal reporter. He was found beheaded in Pakistan in 2002. (The Globe & Mail)
The U.S. is still considering whether to put Mohammed and the four fellow plotters on military tribunal. The Obama administration is also looking into recommendations for civil trials, and is expected to announce a decision soon.
Al-Qaeda is not known to be holding any Americans captive right now. But the Haqqani group – the Pakistan-based Taliban faction closest to al-Qaeda – is holding American soldier Pfc. Bowe Bergdahi who was captured in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009. It released a video of him in December.
Mr. bin Laden is believed to be hiding somewhere in the rugged, lawless border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The prospect of giving Mohammed and the four fellow plotters a civilian trial in New York City has led to protests by residents and relatives of Sept. 11 victims who fear that such a move could again make the city a terrorism target and that they should instead face a military trial.
Earlier this month, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said that if Mr. Obama agrees to try the five in military tribunals, he will press fellow Republicans to vote to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. When Obama took office in January 2009, he set a one-year deadline to close the Guantanamo facility but political and diplomatic complications have forced a delay.
Mr. Graham told CBS television’s Face the Nation March 7 that reversing Attorney-General Eric Holder’s plan to try the suspected terrorists in a civilian court in New York City would be seen as an act of leadership by the public. The White House is reviewing Mr. Holder’s plan and no new recommendation has been presented to the president. A decision is not expected for several weeks.
The threat could signal an increased kidnapping risk targeting U.S. citizens that could last throughout the trial in the United States, the U.S.-based IntelCenter, which monitors jihadist propaganda, said in a note. “The threat of kidnappings will increase further as the trial begins. Attempts to kidnap Americans would not be limited to core al-Qaeda,” the note said. “The group’s regional arms such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qaeda in the Land of the Islamic Maghreb, which has been aggressively targeting Westerners for kidnapping in North America, may follow through on bin Laden’s threat,” it added. (Reuters)
Purported bin Laden messages last surfaced in late January. In one of them, the al-Qaeda leader condemned the Untied States and other industrial nations for causing climate change. The message criticized former U.S. President George W. Bush for rejecting the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, and the speaker condemned international corporations.
In another, bin Laden claimed responsibility for the alleged Christmas day attempt by Nigerian national Umar Farouk Adulmutallab to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane as it approached Detroit, Michigan, from Amsterdam, Netherlands. Bin Laden also warned the United States of more attacks.